Sunday, January 27, 2008

Amazing Grace

Today was a special service with new faces leading. Pastor Shannon, Brooke and Darlene had gone to Chicago for a meeting about worship. With classic hymns and two heartfelt testimonies, many people were touched this Sunday morning at New Life Covenant.

Today’s Scripture readings were from Psalm 27:1, 4-9 and I Corinthians 1:10-18

Cheryl Borndal’s Testimony
At age 12, Cheryl received the Lord as her savior during a retreat. She was underneath a blanket with others sharing secrets. Her secret was that she was not a Christian. The Lord came to her at that time and she has been abundantly grateful for that.

Two years later her father died, which grieved her because she knew he had not been a Christian and she would not see him again. The pastor comforted her afterwards and said that he had indeed accepted Christ and there would be a happy re-union one day.

Her mom re-married and the newly blended family had eight children, including four teens. It was a great privilege to grow up in this family where Christ was so evident, working in their home. Her parents modeled a life of faith and they knew that it was God’s blessing that sustained them. “It’s not us, it’s God,” he mom would say.

She said her mom was also a woman of prayer, stating more than once that prayer was the source of her strength.

Cheryl said, “God works through our lives. I’ve learned to agree with whatever He says.”

Her favorite verse is Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Brady Stroschein’s Testimony
“I feel odd being here,” said Brady as he stood at the front of the church, tall and open-hearted. “I ain’t the churchy kinda fellow.”

Brady shared how as a child he was made to go to church and to sit quietly in the pew, hand folded, no clapping. His legacy included being the first child to fail confirmation in the Lutheran church where he grew up.

The life he lived was not a pretty one. “I was the guy you didn’t want your son playing with or your daughter looking at. I was the guy who ran into your car while drunk and left the scene of the crime.”

But there came a day when his life changed and he was relieved from his bondage. “We all know these people exist,” Brady said, “but I’m here to say there is hope for them.”

He was given the opportunity to change, to sober up. And today he hasn’t had a drink or drug in nine years. “I haven’t hit anyone in seven years,” he said and the two times he’s been in jail he was released right away because it was clear he was not a menace to society.

He’s grateful to God because of his new life, which included the opportunity to start a business. He used to be a bad guy, but now has a wonderful, loving wife and three kids. “Things can turn around 180 degrees in a life and you can be given a chance to help others. I’m really one of the lucky ones.”

A living example of God’s amazing grace, Brady closed by stating, “Don’t give up on the rotten guy down the road.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008


This 2nd Sunday after Epiphany included the special treat of a Chili-Dog Dinner after the service to help raise funds for our Wednesday night Adventure Club. To this end Darlene and Cheryl performed an original drama that was most entertaining and despite the chilly weather hearts were warm, pews were full and the sunlight was dancing in the aisles.

Today's Scripture readings:
Isaiah 49:1-7
I Corinthians 1:1-9

Pastor Shannon's message this week focused on the theme of character transformation, which is directly related to leadership. Whether in our communities, in the workplace or in the home, there is a need for leaders who reflect the character of Christ. This message dealt with the process of becoming a model of what Christ wants us to be.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that transformation is some kind of mystical experience that just "happens" to us. The truth is that we each have a role to play in our transformation.l God has done His part for us on the cross. We participate in revealing His grace by doing our part.

Becoming like God means reflecting His likeness. No, we are not called to become all-powerful or all-knowing like God. Rather, we share in and reflect His character. It is character that leads.

Pastor Brad outlined three journeys we undertake as Christians, the development of virtue, generosity and wisdom.

Conflict is going to be part of the process of becoming virtuous, not because we don't know what God wants. We usually know what God expects or desires of us, but too often we are busy weighing the consequences of obedience. What we lack then is courage to do what is right.

Citing the example of Joshua, we note that he was much like us. He received instruction from the Lord, but was held back by his fear.

6 "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." ~ Joshua 1:6-9

The Angel of the Lord would not have said "Do not be terrified" if Joshua had been enthusiastic and confident. Joshua had been given direction, but needed something more to follow through. He needed courage. It is as if God is saying to us here, "Do not be afraid. Obey and trust."

We don't rely on evaluating consequences. Rather, rely on God, moving forward regardless of the outcome.

God wants us to be crazy about giving our lives away. But it is hard to be generous without wholeness in our lives. Wholeness is not an end in itself. Instead, we become whole to give it away.

Pastor Shannon cited the incident that took place at the house of Simon, a pharisee.

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
40Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said.
41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. ~Luke 7:36-43

Re-telling this parable with a modern setting (VISA card debt) and following it with another story from his youth, Pastor Shannon underscored that generosity flows out from an attitude that is born in us when we recognize how much the Lord gave for us.

How do we achieve wisdom? Perseverance is the process. James 1:2-5 outlines this for us. Trials are necessary for our growth.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. ~ James 1:2-5

This is the reason we consider trials to be "all joy" because when we are experiencing a trial, we know we will soon see God break through. Trials produce opportunities for us to see God's faithfulness in action. All too often we lower the bar, expect too little of ourselves or of our God.

In Psalm 119:32 we read, "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free."

God wants us to know freedom, to run free. Leaders do not pre-occupy themselves with the question, "How much more do I have to give up?"

Character always leads. If we settle for mediocrity, we're not going to lead this church to become all it's meant to be. Are you going to hang around, or run forward and free? Run free!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

After the service we enjoyed chili-dog feed featuring the wonderful handiwork of Don Walters. Don Walters’ career has included years of service on large boats such as the St. Clair and the Roger M. Kyes of the American Steamship Co. fleet. A native Duluthian, Walters earned the nickname “Chili Don” during his time on the Great Lakes the 1980’s.

If you were here, you know it was yummy. If you were not... you missed something really good.

Above: Don Walters stirs the chili.

Right: 1980's newspaper story features Don's Great Lakes experiences and skills.
click on photos to enlarge

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Our Part To Play

For starters, after initial greetings, we were reminded of next week's Chili-Dog Fundraiser for Adventure Club. Sunday January 20, there will be a Chili-dog fund raiser featuring Chef Don Walters. Don Walters’ career has included years of service on large boats such as the St. Clair and the Roger M. Kyes of the American Steamship Co. fleet. A native Duluthian, Walters earned the nickname “Chili Don” during his time on the Great Lakes the 1980’s.

The Adventure Club is a weekly program for youth ages 4th to 6th grade who meet Wednesday evenings from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. The Adventure Club, an outreach of New Life Covenant, includes singing, drama, Bible lessons, small groups, games, crafts, dinner and fun. It is hoped that we can raise $1,000 next week for this vital ministry of the church.

During his Children's Challenge, Pastor Brad talked about maps and proceeded to unfold his second favorite, the Duluth-area snowmobile trail map. His favorite map, of course, is the Bible, which provides a map for our lives as we follow Jesus where He leads.

Today's Scripture readings:
Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43

The title of today's sermon: "Our Part To Play"

Pastor Shannon began with the uncomfortable truth that Jesus has a right to shock us. After all, He is God. When was the last time you were offended by something Jesus said?

As humans we all experience a variety of basic emotions from joy and anger to anxiety or serenity. When you think of the Old Testament prophets, what emotion or quality comes to mind for you? "Don't the prophets strike you as cranky people," he said.

Pastor Shannon cited several passages in which the prophets used angry language and shock tactics to get people's attention.

When we have a choice we generally prefer happy books. But there is a reason for these books of the prophets. We can occasionally read the prophets and wonder, "What's the big deal?"

Today there is much bad in the world. We see cheating in business, AIDS in Africa and substandard housing here in our own community. In their own time, the prophets saw the world as God sees, and their hearts were crushed by the injustice they saw. Their hearts had been trained to feel what God feels, and they felt God's pain.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus gives us an insight as to how we're to view the needs around us.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 25:34-40 NIV)

In effect, when people remain neglected, unclothed, imprisoned with no visitors, hungry and unfed, it is Jesus who suffers.

The prophets spoke for God, on behalf of God. The injustice they saw was real. But how are we to respond when God calls us to act?

The prophet Micah wrote:
6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

We all know and can tell stories of injustice when it happens to us. We hate it when we get treated unfairly. Many Hollywood movies derive their entire storyline from an injustice with revenge as a motivation.

Often, however, we tend to overlook the injustice around us. In truth, we live in a very broken world, much of it that is uncomfortable to look at and difficult to deal with. But Micah gives us a response that is simple yet profound. "He has showed you, O man, what is good.... To do justice..." Whether in our jobs, our neighborhoods or homes, we need to ask God to help us treat others fairly. "and to love mercy..." Other translations state "to love kindness." The word hessed means a steadfast love. It is the visible expression of grace.

We have so much and there are so many who have so little. Pastor Shannon called upon us to not neglect our part in God's plan.

The third portion in Micah's admonition is to "walk humbly with your God."

In reality, the prophets' primary motivation for writing sprang not from anger, but from a depth of love for God's people. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Anger is the fluid love bleeds when you cut it."

In the end, the eyes of all will be opened, Micah writes. And with the prophet we can exclaim,

18 Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
19 You will again have compassion on us;

you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18,19)

So, what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

But one question remains: Will you and I really do it? It's a really big deal.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Our Self Giving Servant Father

This morning Pastor Shannon shared an incredibly powerful insight about God's heart and character on this very special Epiphany Sunday. On this first Communion Sunday of 2008, we gained a deeper understanding of the profound way that Jesus manifest Himself to the world.

The service began with announcement. Please note that in two weeks (January 20) there will be a special fund raising meal featuring the delightfully delicious cuisine of chef Don Walters, a former chef on the Great Lakes. Additional information to be posted on this blogsite.

Today's Scripture readings:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12

Today's sermon was an exposition of the wonderful passage from Philippians 2:5-11 with the theme, "Our Self Giving Servant Father."

There are many scholars who understand this passage as a New Testament hymn. There are several places in Scripture where it appears that the writer is sharing a hymn or has broken into song.

Here is the passage, which begins, "Have this mind... " and ends, "to the glory of God the Father."

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The passage seems to be written in three stanzas. In the first portion the writer sings of the Pre-Earthly Jesus. The second stanza sings of Jesus' entrance into earth and humanity is declared. In the last stanza, we hear of Jesus in His Post-Earth experience.

All of this emerges from a decision. "He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped." The magnitude of this decision is incredible.

Pastor Shannon then highlighted some key words throughout this passage. His aim was to give us glimpses into the multi-layered implications of this beautiful section of Scripture.

In verse six Paul writes that Jesus was "in the form of God" in his pre-earthly state. The actual Greek word here indicates that Jesus possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the image of God. Despite His God nature, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped and "emptied Himself" taking the form of a servant or slave. In other words, He ruled all yet chose to be as one who had not rights.

Another word Pastor Brad highlighted was this statement about being born in human likeness. The actual word conveys something different from just being a clone of a human. He was human, yet in a unique way remained God. The word conveys the idea that He who was God became a man, but not merely man. In Jesus we see Godhood and humanhood.

The phrase regarding His humbling Himself is likewise pointed. He became obedient unto death. This contrasts sharply with Adam's disobedience.

The next phrase, "even death on a cross" is interpreted this way by J.B. Phillips: "and the death He died was the death of a common criminal." It is a degrading death.

Then in verse nine Paul declares that Jesus has been so elevated that He is given the name above every other name. What name is this? A name so sacred that reverent Jews would not even dare to let it cross their lips. Yahweh. Lord.

So it is that we exhorted, "Let this same mind be in you..." or this same attitude. Jesus Himself did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, to be seized upon. What a contrast with the world where those in power exploit every advantage. Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be exploited.

Another powerful insight from this passage: He considered us worthy of this sacrifice.

Jesus, the Son of God, recognized beforehand that being equal with God means being a servant, accepting powerlessness and dying the death of a common criminal.

When Jesus became a man, He did not change who He was. Rather, he chose to reveal what God is like. In effect, He was saying by His life from cradle to cross, "This is the best was to express what it means to be God." A cradle, a towel, a cross....

If being God is this, can being human be anything less?

We are most what we're meant to be when we empty ourselves and take the form of a servant. This is who we are created to be.

"Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus..." (ASV)

This is the Gospel of the Lord.